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Gilda’s Gaming Adventure

4/13/2010 by Gilda Haas - 4 comments

Board GamesOver the past few months, Rosten Woo and I have teamed up with Esperanza to create an online (and off-line) game to help familiarize people with zoning as a fundamental planning tool.

The reason for creating a game is to make  sure that the learning is interactive and fun.  (As opposed to boring and dull, which, with all due respect to my chosen profession, is what comes to mind for most people when you say the word “zoning.”)

We needed to test our game ideas before we got too deeply into the time-consuming  production work that online games require.

So we decided to start with a game that people can play face-to-face in a room.  A board game.

After some back-and-forth experimentation we came up with a rough prototype and then play-tested it with a stalwart crew of smart, activist health promoters from Esperanza.

The results of that are best captured in the following conversation:

Rosten: So let me get this straight. You didn’t have any fun at all? Ever?
Gabby: No.

Enough said.  So it was back to the proverbial drawing board. Or in this case — game board.

Unlike Rosten (and my daughter Chelsea, who beats me at any and all games) I am not a gamer. I like games like charades and scrabble because I like drama and words. So I clearly needed to get up to speed.

I read a book that Rosten turned me on to by Jesse Schell called the Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses.  Its a kind of applied philosophy of games, written very conversationally.

Schell lays out four basic elements of game design:

  1. Mechanics: The procedures, rules, and goal of the game. How players can and cannot try to achieve that goal and what happens when they do.
  2. Story: The sequence of events that unfolds in the game. This can be linear and pre-scripted or branching and emergent.
  3. Aesthetics: What the game looks and feels like. This is very important to game design because this has the most direct relationship to a players experience.
  4. Technology: The materials and interactions that make the game possible which may be anything from playing cards and tokens to augmented reality.

(In our case, there is a fifth element — our Learning Goals).

This basic frame helped me figure out where our game really sucked (Schell says that playtesting is like an engraved invitation that reads: You are cordially invited to tell me why I suck. Bring a friend).

We have a good story.  Rosten is an aesthetics champ.  We are comfortable with technology of various sorts.  Our weakest element was the game’s mechanics.

I know as much about game mechanics as auto mechanics (which is not much), so it was time for me to learn. And the best way to do that is to get busy playing some board games.

I am now a proud habitué of Board Game Geek (tagline: Gaming Unplugged Since 2000) which offers a tremendous database and network of all things board game.

I used their “City-Building” filter to find games about precisely that, read the reviews, downloaded a few that were available that way, and purchased some that sounded promising from individuals and businesses (Troll and Toad, for example).

So here’s the plan: Every week, I’ll share what I’m learning as I learn it, and review the games as I play them.

I hope you board game aficionados out there will look up from what you are playing to chime in with your own opinions, experience and recommendations.

Next week’s game: Monopoly City

Other resources

Here are two other really good books for people who are interested in games and what they have to do with learning:

  1. Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman This is a great textbook about the theory and practice of making games.  Educators might appreciate Zimmerman’s back story (I heard him speak at last year’s DevLearn Conference).  He started a successful gaming company called Gamelab, which in addition to spinning off some others, created a non-profit called the Institute of Play , which, in turn started Quest to Learn,  a school based on play as a model for learning.

  2. What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy , by James Paul Gee, an accomplished educator.   This book is referred to reverentially by the other authors as an inspiring bible for people who care about games as an effective vehicle for learning.

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  1. Kim says:

    This is so awesome, Gilda! I look forward to reading about what you learn — and playing the game that comes out of it!

  2. Gilda Haas says:

    thanks…it’s a challenging business. I now deeply appreciate the thinking that went into every game that isn’t deadly dull… and deeply admire the great ones

  3. Rochelle says:

    Looking forward to what you find.

    On a mildly related note, we used games for financial education recently as part of our Magnolia Network work. Since financial literacy, like zoning, does not exactly excite most people in droves, and we wanted to do a form of it that would also give people an opportunity to build or strengthen their relationships with neighbors at the same time, we decided to hold a Family Game Night. We didn’t create our own– just used Monopoly and Life. We used a few choice debriefing questions to have families and small groups reflect at the end on 1) how the games reflected real life financial lessons/strategies, 2) how financial realities, responsibilities or opportunities might be different in real life, and 3) how they felt about games and family nights as a way to find time to connect with friends and neighbors more frequently 4) what financial info people were interested in getting more info abou tin real life. People who were interested in more financial education follow up to their questions could sign up for classes or follow up wiht our staff. It was a good event with really positive feedback and great comments during the debriefing period…

  4. Gilda Haas says:

    A fun shared experience, some good questions, and an open space for reflection can go a long way. Sounds like you had a great meeting.

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